"There are two Mustafa Kemals. One the flesh-and-blood Mustafa Kemal who now stands before you and who will pass away. the other is you, all of you here who will go to the far corners of our land to spread the ideals which must be defended with your lives if necessary. I stand for the nation's dreams, and my life's work is to make them come true."
Atatürk stands as one of the world's few historic figures who dedicated their lives totally to their nations.
He was born in 1881 (probably in the spring) in Salonica, then an Ottoman city, now in Greece. His father Ali Riza, a customs official turned lumber merchant, died when Mustafa was still a boy. His mother Zubeyde, a devout and strong-willed woman, raised him and his sister. First enrolled in a traditional religious school, he soon switched to a modern school. In 1893, he entered a military high school where his mathematics teacher gave him the second name Kemal (meaning perfection) in recognition of young Mustafa's superior achievement. He was thereafter known as Mustafa Kemal.
In 1905, Mustafa Kemal graduated from the War Academy in Istanbul with the rank of Staff Captain. Posted in Damascus, he started with several colleagues, a clandestine society called "Homeland and Freedom" to fight against the Sultan's despotism. In 1908 he helped the group of officers who toppled the Sultan. Mustafa Kemal's career flourished as he won his heroism in the far corners of the Ottoman Empire, including Albania and Tripoli. He also briefly served as a staff officer in Salonica and Istanbul and as a military attache in Sofia.
Kemal became a national hero by winning successive victories and finally repelling the invaders. Promoted to general in 1916, at age 35, he liberated two major provinces in eastern Turkey that year. In the next two years, he served as commander of several Ottoman armies in Palestine, Aleppo, and elsewhere, achieving another major victory by stopping the enemy advance at Aleppo.
On May 19, 1919, Mustafa Kemal Pasha landed in the Black Sea port of Samsun to start the War of Independence. In defiance of the Sultan's government, he rallied a liberation army in Anatolia and convened the Congress of Erzurum and Sivas which established the basis for the new national effort under his leadership. On April 23, 1920, the Grand National Assembly was inaugurated. Mustafa Kemal Pasha was elected to its Presidency.
Fighting on many fronts, he led his forces to victory against rebels and invading armies. Following the Turkish triumph at the two major battles at Inonu in Western Turkey, the Grand National Assembly conferred on Mustafa Kemal Pasha the title of Commander-in-Chief with the rank of Marshal. At the end of August 1922, the Turkish armies won their ultimate victory. Within a few weeks, the Turkish mainland was completely liberated, the armistice signed, and the rule of the Ottoman dynasty abolished.
In July 1923, the national government signed the Lausanne Treaty with Great Britain, France, Greece, Italy, and others. In mid-October, Ankara became the capital of the new Turkish State. On October 29, the Republic was proclaimed and Mustafa Kemal Pasha was unanimously elected President of the Republic.
Atatürk married Latife Usakligil in early 1923. The marriage ended in divorce in 1925.
The account of Atatürk's fifteen year Presidency is a saga of dramatic modernization. With indefatigable determination, he created a new political and legal system, abolished the Caliphate and made both government and education secular, gave equal rights to women, changed the alphabet and the attire, and advanced the arts and the sciences, agriculture and industry.
In 1934, when the surname law was adopted, the national parliament gave him the name "Atatürk" (Father of the Turks).
On November 10, 1938, following an illness of a few months, the national liberator and the Father of modern Turkey died. But his legacy to his people and to the world endures.
"This nation has never lived without independence. We cannot and shall not live without it. Either independence or death."
Mustafa Kemal Pasha emerged as the national liberator of the Turks when the Ottoman Empire, carved up by the Western Powers, was in its death throes. Already a legendary hero of the Dardanelles and other fronts, he became in 1919 the leader of the Turkish emancipation. With a small and ill-equipped army, he repelled the invading enemy forces on the East, on the South, and on the West. He even had to contend with the Sultan's troops and local bands of rebels before he could gain complete control of the Turkish homeland. By September 1922, he had received one of history's most difficult triumphs against internal opposition and powerful external enemies.
The liberator ranks among the world's greatest strategists and holds the rare distinction of having maintained a perfect military record consisting of only victories and no defeats.
As the national struggle ended, the heroic leader proclaimed:" Following the military triumph we accomplished by bayonets, weapons and blood, we shall strive to win victories in such fields as culture, scholarship, science, and economics," adding that " the enduring benefits of victories depend only on the existence of an army of education."
It is for his military victories and his cultural and socio-political reforms, which gave Turkey its new life, that the Turkish nation holds Atatürk in gratitude and reverence.
Founder of the Republic
"Sovereignty belongs unconditionally to the people."
October 29, 1923 is a fateful date in Turkish history. On that date. Mustafa Kemal Pasha, the liberator of his country, proclaimed the Republic of Turkey. The new homogeneous nation-state stood in sharp contrast to the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire out of whose ashes it arose. The dynasty and theocratic Ottoman system, with its Sultanate and Caliphate, thus came to and end. Atatürk's Turkey dedicated itself to the sovereignty of the national will - to the creation of, in President's words, "the state of the people ".
The Republic swiftly moved to put an end to the so-called "Capitulations ", the special rights and previledges that the Ottomans had granted to some European powers.
The New Turkey's ideology was, and remains, "Kemalism", later known as "Atatürkism". Its basic principles stress the republican form of government representing the power of electorate, secular administration, nationalism, mixed economy with state participation in many of the vital sectors, and modernization. Atatürkism introduced to Turkey the process of parliamentary and participatory democracy.
The first Moslem nation to become a Republic, Turkey has served since the early 1920s as a model for Moslem and non-Moslem nations in the emerging world.
"We must liberate our concepts of justice, our laws and legal institutions from the bonds which hold a tight grip on us although they are incompatible with the needs of our century."
Between 1926 and 1930, the Turkish Republic achieved a legal transformation which might have required decades in most other countries. Religious laws were abolished, and a secular system of jurisprudence introduced. The concepts, the texts and contexts of the laws were made harmonious with the progressive thrust of Atatürk's Turkey. " The nation", Atatürk said, " has placed its faith in the precept that all laws should be inspired by actual needs here on earth as a basic fact of national life."
Among the far-reaching changes were the new Civil Code, Penal Code, and Business Law, based on the Swiss, Italian and German models respectively.
The new legal system made all citizens - men and women, rich and poor - equal before the law. It gave Turkey a firm foundation for a society of justice and equal rights.
"The major challenge facing us is to elevate our national life to the highest level of civilization and prosperity."
Atatürk's aim was to modernize Turkish life in order to give his nation a new sense of dignity, equality, and happiness. After more than three centuries of high achievement, the Ottoman Empire had declined from the 17th to the early 20th Century: With Sultans presiding over a social and economic system mired in backwardness, the Ottoman state had become hopelessly outmoded for the modern times. Atatürk resolved to lead his country out of the crumbling past into a brave new future.
In his program of modernization, secular government and education played a major role. Making religious faith a matter of individual conscience, he created a truly secular system in Turkey, where the vast Moslem majority and the small Christian and Jewish minorities are free to practice their faith. As a result of Atatürk's reforms, Turkey -unlike scores of other countries- has fully secular institutions.
The leader of modern Turkey aspired to freedom and equality for all. When he proclaimed the Republic, he announced that " the new Turkish State is a state of the people and a state by the people." Having established a populist and egalitarian system, he later observed: "We are a nation without classes or special privilidges." He also stressed the paramount importance of the peasants, who had long been neglected in the Ottoman times: " The true owner and master of Turkey is the peasant who is the real producer."
To give his nation a modern outlook, Atatürk introduced many reforms: European hats replaced the fez; women stopped wearing the veil; all citizens took surnames; and the Islamic calendar gave way to the Western calendar. A vast transformation took place in the urban and rural life. It can be said that few nations have ever experienced anything comparable to the social change in Atatürk's Turkey.